In my first month abroad, I have discovered one of the great dichotomies of German romance: flirting versus sex. Now, I understand that flirting and actual sex are two very different things, but last time I checked, flirting is often the first in a series of steps to having sex. So, good readers, you understand my assumption that types of flirting and types of sex go hand in hand; stereotypically, a “flirt” will probably have a more active sex life than a “wallflower.”
Now that we’ve got that straight, let me introduce Andrew, my roommate here in Lneburg. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall, about 180 pounds, with dark hair and eyes. He’s a good looking, amiable guy who’s usually pretty successful with the ladies. So you can imagine what a shock it was when we went to a club and he got rejected by literally every German woman he approached. What did Andrew do wrong?
Everything! If you need to know one thing as a single man in Germany, it’s this: German flirting is about as simple as writing a book without any vowels. You’re expected to get your message across without any of the classic flirting tools, from flashing that dazzling smile to offering to buy a girl a drink to coming up to her and saying, “You must have a mirror in your pocket because I can see myself in your pants.” To illustrate my point, I give you the start of a typical German flirting session: staring. A man catches a woman’s eye, holds her gaze for a moment, and that’s it. Maybe he’ll do it once more. Anything more than that is considered too forward or disrespectful. So poor Andrew went from “nice guy” in America to that “creeper” girls avoid in Germany without even trying.
I would chalk this one up to just another cultural difference if it weren’t for one little thing: German culture is more sexually open than America’s, especially when it comes to young people. I mean, there’s a weekly column in the German magazine, Bravo, which gives teenagers advice on sex. Not like, “Am I ready for sex?” kinds of questions, but, “How can I tell if a girl is having an orgasm?” kinds of questions. Each week features the stories of two German teens with accompanying nude pictures. Call me crazy, but this little Lutheran girl did a double take when she saw Cosmo-worthy articles illustrated with what in America is considered child pornography in the supermarket checkout line.
Basically, what’s throwing Andrew off is that the same girl who learned about masturbation from a weekly periodical freaks out when he comes up to her in a bar and says he noticed her from across the room. So, amazing roommate that I am, I joined the quest to help Andrew successfully flirt with a German girl. We’ve referenced everything from our German roommates to our professors to the Bravo Web site. Although Andrew is still a little embittered against the female German population, we have come to a basic understanding about this paradox.
First, the explanation of the openly sexual society. So there was this thing in 1969 called the Sexual Revolution. Apparently there was one in America too, but in Germany there was no Bible Belt or conservative right to slow it down. This helps explain Europe’s reputation for being relaxed about the whole sex thing (think nude beaches and legal prostitution). It’s just a given that everybody’s going to have sex. So the issue becomes helping an overly sexualized but poorly educated youth stay safe and healthy. Articles that handle such sensitive issues may be a more comfortable resource for sex education than parents.
Thus far, the logic is pretty easy to follow, but now let’s add another factor. After all the fun of 1969, there came a new decade; and with the ’70s came the Women’s Movement. Like free love, Germany took to this trend a little better than America. For example, German women have the same constitutional rights as men. So when a man approaches a German woman, she expects to be treated as an intelligent person. This means that being too quick to point out her killer body won’t get you any bonus points. Don’t let the complaints about boring German men fool you; if you try and mix it up on the flirting scene, you will get shot down.
And now, for the conclusion: Germans are big fans of sex and women’s rights. They’re just more extreme about it than Americans. When all is said and done, Andrew and I say the women have the upper hand in this game, but at least now we understand the rules. Tschá: I’m off to help Andrew practice his flirt-staring.